DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The Polk County sheriff’s office released dashcam footage and other information Friday about the fatal shooting of a Wisconsin man by one of its deputies in 2018, though it wasn’t immediately clear if the video showed he was shot in the back, as his family contends.
The sheriff’s office released the videos and documents as part of an agreement with a government transparency group that sued the agency to ensure that the public knows what happened.
The sheriff’s office disclosed details in an online video that includes dashcam footage of deputies chasing 25-year-old Isaiah Hayes, of Ashland, Wisconsin, through central Iowa. They also released previously undisclosed documents and radio communications.
The sheriff’s office says Deputy Ryan Phillips saw Hayes run from a stolen car near Altoona, Iowa. Phillips reported that Hayes had a weapon and that Phillips fired when Hayes refused orders to drop it.
Hayes’ family filed a lawsuit alleging that the county withheld details about the incident because it would show Phillips “shooting Isaiah in the back while Isaiah did not pose a threat.”
A grand jury declined to pursue charges against Phillips, who has returned to work. County officials said he acted appropriately but they initially refused to release the recordings, calling them “investigative reports” that can be withheld indefinitely.
The Iowa Freedom of Information Council sued for access to the records. In a court settlement with the organization, the county denied any violation and didn’t rule as to whether withholding public records regarding Hayes’ shooting was permissible or unlawful. But the sheriff’s office agreed to release all incident reports and unedited dashcam videos and audio from deputy vehicles on its website within 14 days.
Randy Evans, the Iowa Freedom of Information Council’s executive director, credited Polk County for releasing the records. But he said he has observed increasing resistance to such transparency from other law enforcement agencies.
“I don’t think you’re going to build public respect, public confidence or public trust in law enforcement by demanding secrecy with these kinds of files,” Evans said.
A YouTube video included with the release features commentary from Polk County Sheriff’s Lt. Brandon Bracelin, who said that Hayes was holding a handgun when he fled from authorities. The gun later turned out to be a BB-gun, but Bracelin said Phillips couldn’t have known that at the time because the gun closely resembled a normal handgun.
“At the time Deputy Phillips used force against Hayes, he believed that the perceived deadly threat to himself and the families living in that neighborhood was real,” Bracelin said in the video.